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Aaron Swartz taught himself to read when he was three. At twelve, he created Info Network, a user-generated encyclopedia, which he later likened to an early version of Wikipedia. Not long after, Aaron turned his computer genius to political organizing, information sharing and online freedom.
In 2006, Aaron downloaded the Library of Congress’s complete bibliographic dataset. The library charged fees to access them. However, as a government document, it was not copyright-protected within the USA. By posting the data on OpenLibrary.org, Aaron made it freely available. Eventually, the Copyright Office sided in favor of Aaron.
In 2008, Aaron downloaded and released 2.7 million federal court documents stored in the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database managed by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. The Huffington Post characterized his actions as: "Swartz downloaded public court documents from the PACER system in an effort to make them available outside of the expensive service. The move drew the attention of the FBI, which ultimately decided not to press charges as the documents, were, in fact, public."
In late 2010, Aaron downloaded a large number of academic journal articles through MIT’s computer network. At the time, Aaron was a research fellow at Harvard University, which provided him with an authorized account. Aaron’s motivation for downloading the articles was never fully determined. However, friends and colleagues reported that his intention was either to publicly share them on the Internet or uncover corruption in the funding of climate change research. This time, faced with prosecutors being overzealous and a dysfunctional criminal justice system, Aaron was charged with a maximum penalty of $1 million in fines and 35 years in prison, leading to a two-year legal battle with the US federal government that ended when Aaron took his own life on January 11, 2013.
Between 2007 and 2011 Aaron read over 600 books; one book every three days. Early on, Aaron made a point to write about his findings and reflection. From the Hello World post published on January 13, 2002 to the last known article written on November 1, 2012 What Happens in The Dark Knight, Aaron published 1,478 articles on his personal blog; one article every three days.
Aaron dealt with a wide range of subjects going from politics, economics, science, sociology, through technology, education, nutrition, philosophy, among many others. But beyond that, the clarity of Aaron’s mind on the difficulty of the subjects he was dealing with at such a young age is striking. When the typical 16 year-old college student worries about fitting in and mating, Aaron was tackling with a book publication and wondered about what he should do with his life. At 18 he read Noam Chomsky, and at 23 wrote the very impressive 12,000-word piece A Summary/Explanation of John Maynard Keynes’ General Theory. This article was dealing with such complexity that two days after its publication, it was followed by a —much— shorter and accessible version, titled Keynes, Explained Briefly.
Five months before his death, Aaron completed Raw Nerve, a series of articles reflecting on life, depicting an honest, painful and yet beautiful picture of the tragedy of life. Perhaps then, Aaron knew his time was drawing to an end...
There have been numerous criticisms about Aaron’s decision to end his life. Some agree with it, some don’t. Whether he made the right decision is certainly not for the editors of this present book to comment on.
Instead, we decided to focus on the positive impact Aaron made on us all. Raw Thought, Raw Nerve: Inside the Mind of Aaron Swartz contains the life’s work of one of the most original minds of our time.
One volume, 824 pages.